‘Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness — A Philosopher’s Lament’ by Douglas Groothuis

By Tom Gilson Published on October 28, 2018

“When I look at Becky’s face, happy or sad, I see what has been taken away, and I see what no earthly cure can touch. But I know that God’s favor has not been taken away from his child, that her awareness and intelligence will be restored. But we are still walking through twilight and into a night when no one can work. And God is working still.” — Doug Groothuis

People speak of accepting pain and loss “philosophically.” What does that mean, though? And what kind of answer would you expect in a book titled Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness — A Philosopher’s Lament? Whatever you expected, you’ll find something much more personal, more painful, yet more loving and more hopeful here. There’s philosophy to be sure, since for Doug Groothuis, the author, philosophy is inseparable from life; but his life is really in Christ.

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It’s been a hard life — for decades, really — because his wife, Becky, was suffering a long, slow decline into dementia. Groothuis is a professor of philosophy and apologetics at Denver Theological Seminary. Becky was once a brilliant philosopher and theologian herself, until an uncommonly brutal disease, primary progressive aphasia, took that from her. Gradually, over the course of years, she lost her ability to speak or to understand language.

Prayers for a Friend

And I find myself at a loss for words myself, for far lesser reasons and yet not trivial. Doug Groothuis and I have shared meals together at more than one conference, talking apologetics, laughing about jazz (don’t you dare mention Kenny G.!), and briefly at times touching on Becky. I was thrilled to find out he and I were both scheduled as speakers at a conference in Columbus last July — and then devastated, once I arrived, to learn that Becky had finally passed away that week. (I really missed you there, Doug — missed you a lot. And I’m praying for you.)

But I must keep my comments pointed toward the book itself.

A Classic of Courage and Love

There were moments reading it when I wondered whether I might be among the first to encounter a book that would become a classic for the ages. Similar in theme to C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed and Sheldon Vanauken’s  A Severe Mercy, this book is more immediate, more real-time than those. Lewis had journaled his grief, so we follow him in it day by day. Both he and Vanauken finished their books after their wives had passed, though, and after they’d had time to process the loss. Becky was still alive, Doug was still in “twilight” — not yet the darkness — when this book went to press.

The book feels like a gift of love to his readers. 

To publish it took courage. For years he’s committed himself publicly to trust in Jesus Christ. With this book he’s committing himself to continue in that faith without Becky at his side. Not every Christian survives that kind of loss. Yet Doug’s courage and faith had been thoroughly proved with every loss in Becky’s life he’d already grieved.

Courage, yes, but love even more so: Love for Becky, for God and for truth, certainly; but the book feels like a gift of love to his readers, too.

A Book on How to Grieve

It’s a book he doubtless never wanted to be able to write, considering what he had to suffer to get there. But it’s also one that very few can do with such proven credibility; for in spite of his loss, this book of his is filled with hope. It’s marked with “interludes,” he calls them, of joy he and Becky experienced along the way. He learned how to grieve, and shares it freely and transparently. Music, art and literature all lightened his load. So did friends and colleagues, as well as his students at the seminary. Their dog, Sonny, always knew when and how to help.

“We are still walking through twilight and into a night when no one can work. And God is working still.”

So it’s the right kind of book to help anyone who’s going through serious loss, or helping someone through it. I could even call it practical. That may not be the kind of thing you might expect from “A Philosopher’s Lament,” but Groothuis would tell you philosophy, coupled with faith and love, is often more practical than a lot of us think it is.

And he’d say the same, with greater emphasis, about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his own words of ultimate love and hope:

“Looking at Becky sometimes quickly transports me to better times — days of words and riposte — that don’t seem so far away. But they are. We are stumbling through the long twilight, leading to night, but followed by light eternal. ‘There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.’ (Revelation 22:5).”

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  • douglasgroothuis

    Thank you, Tom, for a moving review. Doug

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